Monday, June 11, 2012

Why The NBA Finals Matter (For Basketball)

I had hoped to be writing this about the Spurs vs. Heat, but it is just as relevant in a Thunder vs. Heat series. There is a lot at stake this NBA Finals. It will have some long term consequences for the sport, I think, at least at the professional level. It should be an exciting series regardless, with plenty of star power (Lebron, Durant, Wade, Westbrook, Bosh). But what really makes it interesting is that it will be a clash of philosophies. Can you build championships around a few egotistical superstars and scrubs (The Heat), or do you still need a true team mentality to go all the way (The Thunder). I say this works with the Thunder as well as The Spurs because The Thunder have been modeled after San Antonio's organization. Several of its top brass worked their way up through Popovich's system, and they are trying to recreate it in OKC. From an unselfish superstar (Durant) to having a minimum of drama and smartly keeping that "we're a small market" chip on their shoulder, OKC is SA Jr. Will Miami be the model, or will it be OKC? The Mavericks went a long way last season in proving that it takes a team, and a second trouncing of The Heat this season will take the point even further.

Of course I can't stand The Heat. From Lebron's classless prime time exit from Cleveland (and for being tone deaf to the criticisms for months afterwards) to the garrish pep rally The Heatles threw for themselves, guaranteeing multiple championships, as Stan Van Gundy commented, "before they even practiced together." There is so much to hate, they made it easy. It was a Yankees or Cowboys level of arrogance and entitlement, but without the history to fall back on. OKC, on the other hand, prides itself on team play. Durant and Westbrook know they can't do it alone, and so they rely on their excellent role players like Serge Ibaka. And any team with the 6th Man of the Year is indicative of a team that understands the importance of depth (again, Harden can be paralleled with 6th man Spur star Ginobili in many ways, both are good enough to be starters, but instead relish their roles as deadly leaders of the second unit).

So I will be rooting for the Thunder because I really like them. But also, because I love basketball. Because I appreciate the game as a team sport, not as an individual endeavor. And I appreciate humility.

Prediction: Thunder in 6.


ANCIANT said...

Not sure I agree. I used to feel the same about the Heat, but, I don't know. As Jeff Van Gundy said on air of late, at some point, there is a statue of limitations on stupidity. LeBron has said publicly that he now regrets "The Decision" (as he should) as well as all the braggadicio upon their arrival. Since then, the guy has taken more criticism and hate than...well, that I thought possible. He's not a bad guy; he's never been arrested, or hurt anybody, or did anything untoward. He acted like a young idiot, yes, but I think at some point he gets a pass. Right?

Anyway, the show he put on for Game 6 against the Celtics was straight up beast-mode. THAT was awesome.

And, though I like the Thunder too, I'm not sure Russell Westbrook always buys entirely into the team first concept. I know he says he does, but, sweet lord--he shoots A LOT. Especially given he's got the most prolific scorer in the game standing next to him in the backcourt, does it ever occur to him to, you know, pass?

Dezmond said...

It depends on how stupid. And how arrogant. Yes, Lebron says he regrets "The Decision," but only after many months of the entire planet earth telling him what a bad idea it was. I'm not sure, in his heart of hearts, if he really understands why it was so tasteless. It would be one thing if a week or two later, he realized, "oh sh*t, that was pretty bad. I just pissed in the face of an entire city." But it was only months and months later.

And the huge rally they held that looked much like the Spurs championship celebrations I've seen here over the years...but as the other Van Gundy said, "before they had even practiced together." They essentially painted a target on themselves, and then acted surprised that everyone was then gunning so hard for them. Really?!

As for the Thunder, that is Westbrook's game. Would you prefer a Lakers set-up where everything has to run through Kobe? What makes the Thunder so tough is that while they do have the scoring champ in Durant, they also have Westbrook who can score a ton as well, and then Harden on top of that. Plus the great role players. Durant still managed to score more than any other player this season, despite Westbrook. He's getting his shots.

Dezmond said...

So there may be a statute of limitations on stupidity, but it has not run out yet. Much like different crimes have different limitations, Lebron's stupidity demands a much harsher statute.

Dezmond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This entry is so full of blatant inaccuracies and biased anti-Lebron propaganda that I don't even know where to begin. Instead of writing a treatise in response, I'll just defer to the comment by ANCIANT above which covers the majority of my objections, although in a more concise and less hostile manner than I would choose.

Now that the series is over, I assume you will print a retraction, since your comments about which team actually plays as a "team" were clearly pulled straight out of your ass. At least you admitted that you were biased against Lebron, although there was little doubt based on the content. Maybe King James will be the bigger man and let you kiss his ring.

Dezmond said...

I will retract nothing, Paul or Denny. Even if I was wrong. But seriously, my reasons for bashing Lebron were not based on his abilities or skills. I never said he was not a brilliant basketball player.

So my reasons still stand. Not that he can't redeem himself, but I don't fogive so quickly. The arrogance of the celebrations before they even played together, The Decision (possibly the dumbest PR move in all of sports)...that stuff is still there. His lack of clutch performance last year is still there.

Two things happened here. The Thunder choked and did not play well. 6th Man of the Year Harden was worse than not there, he was atrocious. And the flip side, Miami was outstanding. Lebron put on one of the all time great playoff performances this season. He did it. I can still dislike the bastard, though, just as much as you apparently have fallen in love.

Anonymous said...

Hail to the King, baby!